Archive for May 2013

Crocogators Go West   1 comment

The crocogator is an urban legend in the African-American tradition. In “Crocogators Go West” I use some of the identifying characteristics of this legendary figure but take him out of his native home in New York’s Harlem and send him to Los Angeles. In his adventure he finds out things about himself he had not known and develops a new appreciation for his female companion.
I been fooling with you younguns all day. Now your mama and papa say they going to dinner.. And gone leave me to fool with you all night? No sir, it’s time for you younguns to go to bed. Say what? You old enough to do what? Gone tell me this is California. Like I don’t know. Younguns is younguns in any place. Yawl got a place. To bed is your place this time of night Yawl still just kids. Think you something. Well I know something will put you under the covers quick. Ain’t nowhere but under the covers will keep away the crocogator.
Say what? You been where? And you think you too old for fairy tales? Ain’t talking about no fairy tales. Crocogator eat up every fairy he see. No listen, do you younguns know the tale of the crocogator? What you never heard of one? Why crocogator’s the baddest dude in Harlem. Don’t tell me this is the west coast. I been out here a while and I ain’t never yet seen no dude out here bad as old crocogator. I see yawl got rattle snakes out here but we been dealing with snakes since Eden. They ain’t nothing new and nothing to be scared of. Just don’t take no apples from them though. Rattle snake make a nice appetizer for a crocogator meal. Once we had a old cowboy met up with a crocogator on Lenox avenue. Tried to wrangle him but cowboy didn’t know crocogator got teeth at both ends. So cowboy bend over to tie crocogator’s hind legs and got his nose bit off. Yawl younguns sure can ask some questions. Leave it to you to ask how he let loose with teeth at both ends. He don’t. That’s what makes him so mean.
Now hush . I’ll tell you about a crocogator name of Stackodaddy. Stackodaddy had a woman and… I told yawl younguns to hush. Asking questions like that young as you is. Don’t know how they did it. Got sense enough not to ask. And you reckon he’d tell me? I’m just telling what I seen. I got eyes in the back of my head and can see legends and things what ain’t quite true but I ain’t gonna get my nose bit off asking no crocogator about his business with no woman.
Anyway Stackodaddy had a woman. And she was just as bad as he was. Woman name of Stella. Six feet tall and black as your daddy’s shoe polish. He ask her why she so mean. She say cuz if she try to be nice to him he prolly get tired of her and go find somebody else. She knew him up and down. Knew his mama couldn’t breast feed him with all them teeth. Yea, he was born with them. Chewed up his bottle at two months old. Ate up his warden at twenty years old. By time he was thirty five men in Harlem had bullets with his PIN number on them. He brandished a big pepsodent smile when he took them all out and I don’t mean to dinner.
Stackodaddy try to make Stella mind like they say a woman spose to do. I reckon when they got that rule they didn’t have Stella in mind. She sure didn’t seem to know. Stackodaddy do what he can. He say Stella I don’t want you wearing your neckline so low. Ain’t no other men’s got no business looking at you. Stella take off her shirt right there and go outside in her brassiere and say Daddy Stack, it’s my business. I knowed I shouldn’ta mention that word front of you. Just say brassiere and yawl have a fit. Silly chillin. Thought you was so grown. Anyway Stackodaddy say Stella, you see all these teeth. Now you come back in here and don’t you do that no more. See even the baddest dude in Harlem ain’t nothing in the hands of a bad woman. Stella laugh. She wave at the postman.
One day Stackodaddy think about his life. He think about having a bunch of little crocogators around the house to pass on his legend. He knowed Stella was the onliest woman in the world could handle a brood of crocogators without getting herself ate up. So he ask her to marry him. He buy her a ‘gagement ring and go down to the tall woman’s store for a bunch of lacy underclothes. He say you can’t go outside in these. But Stella say no I’m going to school. Gonna get educated and do something with myself. Ain’t nothing you plan to do with me. Stackodaddy let loose at both ends. He cuss for three days. He think about tying Stella up and calling the preacher to his house but he ain’t never yet raised his hand at Stella. And I ain’t saying he was scared to. Old crocogator ain’t scared of nothing. He just ain’t never get around to doing it. He see a friend fall on his knees and beg his woman to marry him. She did but that’s something else a crocogator don’t do. So Stella determined she gone go to school and Stackodaddy have to handle his own heart. These was strange feelings Stackodaddy hadn’t knowed he was capable of. He almost cried crocogator tears. . But he caught himself, hitched up his britches, packed up his grip and headed west looking for something new.
First thing he noticed about California was the funny looking trees. They looked like God used them to put on his shaving cream. And all the houses was flat on the ground. You didn’t have to climb stairs to get to the bedroom. Made of that stucco. Look like corn meal. Look like it would crumble away. Not solid like a brick. Anyway he find himself a place near some railroad tracks. Didn’t mind the trains at night cuz he wasn’t hardly home no how. Anyway one morning he found himself at home sleeping off this new stuff called tequila. Didn’t take much tequila to kill anybody but a crocogator. But that’s something yawl younguns don’t need to know nothing about ‘cept to stay away from it. Anyway he were half sleep when it feel like a train come by. A powerful, big train. Musta had a hundred cars cuz it just roll on and on. The lights went out and something crashed in the kitchen. The dresser fall over and the bed just go thump thump bump bump. Stackodaddy wonder to himself what kinda train is this. He stagger cross the floor. Stagger worse than tequila. He looked out the window. Didn’t see no train but the whole mother ground was stomping at the Savvoy. Old crocogator ain’t scared of nothing but he jump out the window cuz he don’t want to be buried in no cornmeal. He see somebody flailing around in the dark. He say what the hell’s going down. Somebody say your roof is going down, dummy. Stackodaddy bare his teeth. All of them. Oh so you a little signifying monkey is you. Well I’ll kick your… Monkey say you’ll kiss what? Stackodaddy do more than kiss him. He eat him up.
After while the ground lay still. Crocogator mighty shook up but he ain’t scared of nothing. He look around town cuz he miss having a woman with Stella back home getting educated. He see somebody he might like and ask her for her phone number. She just give it to him like she been waiting all her life. She say when you gone call me? He say when you gone be home? She say whenever you want. Stackodaddy think to himself Stella wouldn’t never say nothing like that. Stella make a man say when will I see you again cuz you never know. The baddest dude in Harlem got to be the baddest dude west of the Pecos ain’t can’t do with a cream puff woman. Woman made of cornmeal. He sashay away as fast as he can ‘fore she get ate up by little crocogators.
Anyway he look around town then one day he open his door and the baddest woman in Harlem step cross his threshold. She say she found him in the phone book. He say he thought she was getting educated. She say she got the ‘sociate degree and gone finish in L.A. cuz Harlem ain’t the same without the crocogator. ‘Sides all the mens is scared to date the baddest woman in Harlem and educated too. But crocogator ain’t scared of nothing. Stackodaddy say he believe she right. She agree to marry him if he ain’t gone try to make her mind. He say he can’t no how and he don’t want her to go away no more. She say she go if she want to but right now she don’t want to.
So they get married and have a bunch of little crocogators. Like yawl younguns they thought they was bad. The baddest little crocogators in L.A. gone be like their daddy and not be scared of nothing. They didn’t want to go to bed neither but Stackodaddy got them teeth at both ends and he get them coming and going. He put them in the bed and make them get under the covers. He say anything what ain’t under the covers will get bit off.
Why yawl younguns ain’t in bed yet? Don’t you know crocogator’s still in town? He maybe live down the street and he go round like Sanny Claus to make sure all the younguns is under the covers. Now git! Don’t let me have to tell you again. I’ll call him. I’ll sure call him.

Copyright 1996 by Rhonda Johnson


Spotlight on The Harlem Renaissance   Leave a comment

Beginning roughly 1917 a cultural explosion burst out of Harlem, New York. It was called The New Negro Movement. Yes, we 21st century African Americans disdain the term “Negro,” but that is what they called themselves, and these cultural geniuses were the sovereign lords of their own progressive vision.

Why is this important to us today? Why is any people’s history important to them? If we forget the ancestors from whom we came, we will be like trees without roots, tossed to and fro by the definitions that others ascribe to us. When we let others tell us who we are and how we came to be where we are, what they tell us will always be for their benefit and never for our own benefit. So we must know that there is more to us than slaves, thugs and ballplayers. We must write our own story. And to do that, we must know that writing is something that we do. Writing is not something we copied off of Massa, but it is a natural expression of who we are.

Today, we will look at a group of men and women and examine the creative synergy they created when they decided to take up their pens. This is not meant to be an exhaustive study. It is an overviews, meant to introduce young writers to a handful of those who stood at the vanguard of the traditions and heritage in which we write. My hope is that after reading this, the reader/writer will feel spurred to further study by in depth biographers, such as Arnold Rampersand.

Who was the New Negro?

The Harlem Renaissance began almost thirty years after the end of the so-called “Radical Reconstruction.” For about twelve years after the end of the Civil War, former slaves where able to breathe relatively freely. While many continued to languish in poverty and the squalid conditions of share-cropping, a significant segment, which W.E.B. Du Bois identified as the ”talented tenth,” flourished in various areas of life. They bought land. They were elected to public office. They started businesses. They built schools. They patented the inventions of their own hands. They progressed in ways that scared the hell out of southern Whites. These Whites went to Washington and told then president Rutherford Hayes that if he did not do something, the Blacks would “own the south.” So he signed what came to be known as the Compromise of 1879 and a reign of terror began. The Ku Klux Klan was born. Jim Crow laws were enacted. Blacks who owned land and businesses were lynched.

So it would seem that African Americans lost all the things they had gained in those twelve years. They were back to square one. That’s where the New Negro stepped in. Tired of moving backwards and sideways, these men and woman decided to use their gift with words to move forward. The renaissance also included musicians, painters and other artists, but for the purpose of this paper, we will focus on the writers.

Writers of the Harlem Renaissance

Alain Locke
(September 13 1885-June 9, 1954)
At age 22, Locke became the first African American Rhodes Scholar. This writer, philosopher and educator was the mastermind behind the Harlem Renaissance, and his book, The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance, gave the movement its original name. It may be safe to say that without Alain Locke there would have been no Harlem Renaissance. At least, there may not have been such a strong confluence among the Black writers of that period. The period lasted until roughly 1934, when the Great Depression forced the writers and their philanthropic patrons to focus on mere survival. Locke was one of those patrons.

Georgia Douglas Johnson
(September 10 1880-May 14, 1966)
This poet and song writer held weekly “salons” for prominent figures in the Harlem Renaissance. In her house—called the “House“—politics and personal opinions flowed freely among the New Negroes. Doubtless, these conversations served as inspirations for more than a few of the literary creations of the participants.

In 2009, Johnson was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.

Langston Hughes
(February 1, 1902-May 22. 1967)
Though best known for his poetry and Jesse B. Semple stories, Hughes was among the grassroots creators of the literary form known as jazz poetry. Like the Hiphoppers of today, they were doing it back then too. In 1925, Hughes worked as the personal assistant of historian Carter G. Woodson at the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

In 1930, Hughes published a novel, Not Without Laughter, which depicts the life of a young Black boy. One of Hughes best known poems is “A Dream Deferred:”

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Angelina Weld Grimké
(February 27, 1880-June 10, 1958)
Grimké was a pioneer of creative protest. Long before the famed marches on Washington, she penned Rachel, a play that protests lynching and other forms of racial violence. One of her most memorable poems was “The Eyes of My Regret:”

Always at dusk, the same tearless experience,
The same dragging of feet up the same well-worn path
To the same well-worn rock;
The same crimson or gold dropping away of the sun
The same tints, – rose, saffron, violet, lavender, grey
Meeting, mingling, mixing mistily;
Before me the same blue black cedar rising jaggedly to
a point;
Over it, the same slow unlidding of twin stars,
Two eyes, unfathomable, soul-searing,
Watching, watching, watching me;
The same two eyes that draw me forth, against my will
dusk after dusk;
The same two eyes that keep me sitting late into the
night, chin on knees
Keep me there lonely, rigid, tearless, numbly
miserable –
The eyes of my Regret.

Clause McKay
(September 15, 1889-May 22, 1948)
Scholar Molefi Kete Asante included McKay in his 2002 list of 100 Greatest African Americans. Born in Jamaica, McKay was a prolific writer whose influence continues for generations.

64 years after his physical demise, the genius of McKay resurfaced to haunt the literary and intellectual world. In 2009, Jean-Christophe Cloutier uncovered the manuscript of a satire set in 1936. Amiable With Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem was buried in the Samuel Roth Papers, an archive at Columbia University, and in 2012, with the help of professor Brent Hayes Edwards, Cloutier authenticated that McKay did write this manuscript in 1941. With a title like that, one can only imagine at its contents.

Nella Larson
(April 13. 1891-March 30, 1964)
Larson was not as prolific a writer as other luminaries in the Harlem Renaissance. But she received much critical acclaim for her two novels, Quicksand and Passing. Interest in her work renewed during the late 20th century, when her interracial themes resonated with the then angst over racial identity.

Jean Toomer
(December 26, 1884-March 30 1967)
Toomer was a major player in the Harlem Renaissance. His first and most critically acclaimed work, Cane, was considered to be important not only to the Harlem Renaissance but also to that segment of American society known as the Lost Generation—described in Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises as the generation that served in World War 1.

The Great Depression during the 1930s made it difficult for writers to get published, but Toomer did not stop writing. He remained as prolific as ever and his unpublished manuscripts are now held in the Beinecke Library at Yale University. One might ask, why Yale and not one of the many Historically Black Universities and Colleges.

Anne Spencer
(February 6, 1882-July 27, 1975)
Her work was included in the Norton Anthology of Literature by Women and the Norton Anthology of American Poets. Her life of 93 years spanned centuries and eras, allowing her to host everyone from George Washington Carver to Thurgood Marshall, from W.E.B. Du Bois to Martin Luther King, Jr. Her home in Lynchburg, VA, where she lived for 72 years, is now a museum that commemorates her contribution to literature.

Arna Bontemps
(October 13, 1902-June 4, 1973)
As Head Librarian at Fisk University for over 25 years, Bontemps put together such works as the Langston Hughes Renaissance Collection and other archives of African-American literature and culture.

Bontemps was a novelist and a playwright. He was one of the few African-American writers who put together an anthology of the stories of the slaves titled Great Slave Narratives.

Zora Neale Hurston
(January 7, 1891-January 28, 1960)
Although the Great Depression of the 1930s dried up much of the philanthropic spirit that financed the artistic endeavors of the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston published her most well known work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, in 1937. Anthropologist and folklorist, she published Mules and Men in 1935 as the culmination of four years of anthropological research in the southern states. In 1938, Hurston published the results of her travels in Jamaica and Haiti, Tell My Horse.

Hurston was very much a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance. She had works published in Alain Locke’s anthology, The New Negro. In 1920, she got together with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman to form a group called the Niggerett. They published a literary magazine called Fire!!

Wallace Thurman
(August 16, 1902-December 22, 1934)
The magazine, Fire!! was aimed towards younger Blacks. In this joint venture with Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, Thurman criticized the old guard Black leaders such as W.E.B. Du Bois for their efforts to integrate with Whites and use art to prove their worthiness to Whites by White standards. Yet, even the “New Negro” wasn’t ready to embrace such a radical stance, and the magazine folded after one issue.

In his most notable novel, The Blacker the Berry, Thurman addresses that age-old boogieman of color discrimination within the Black community.

James Weldon Johnson
(June 17, 1871-June 26, 1938)
Born during that most progressive period called Radical Reconstruction, Johnson saw first hand what African Americans can do when not encumbered by White racism. He is most well known as the composer of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which came to be known as the Black National Anthem.

True to his African heritage, Johnson was the master of all trades. He was a professor at New York University and then at Fisk. He served as diplomat in both Venezuela and Nicaragua. Poet, songwriter, novelist, playwright, civil rights activist, lawyer—he did it all.

Lift every voice and sing
Til Earth and Heaven ring
Ring with the harmony of liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea

Sing a song
Full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song
Full of the hope that the present has brought us

Facing the rising sun
Of our new day begun
Let us march on
Til victory is won

Countee Cullen
(May 30, 1903-January 9, 1946 )
Long before James Brown urged African Americans to “Say it loud. I‘m Black and I‘m proud,” Countee Cullen wrote Color, a collection of poems that celebrates the beauty of Blackness. He was a prolific writer of poems, essays and even a play, but this collection stood out as a bright star in the celestial atmosphere of the Harlem Renaissance. From Color we have the poem “Incident.”

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, ‘Nigger.’

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.

As African Americans, and as Africans period, we have always used some form of art—writing, music, dance, drama, painting, sculpture—to express the depth of our despair and the height of our euphoria. The pen, they say, is mightier than the sword. That is only true when people respect what is written. The writers of the Harlem Renaissance are respected because of their honesty. They had White patrons who financed their travels here and there and White publishers who accepted their work. Yet, they never sold out to what they thought others wanted them to write. With such a heritage, can we do anything less in the 21st century?

Las Angelinas   Leave a comment

I heard her important sounding boots on the pavement
I didn’t turn around
But I knew it was a her
It was a her sounding sound
An important her
Compared to the soft patter of my Sketchers
It sounded like the approach of doom
somebody was going to be in big trouble

Not me
I kept walking
Umbrella in one hand
Aqua Fina in the other

It was just a silly nonsensical angelina thing
Drinking water and wearing tennis shoes in the rain

But it made me feel more important to the sky
More important to the itinerary of water
Than clunky heels
And troubled minds

Copyright 1998 by Rhonda Denise Johnson

Posted May 25, 2013 by rhondadenisejohnson in Poetry

Invasion of the Indefinite Pronouns   Leave a comment

I am tired of writing “he or she”, “his or hers.” It’s just awkward, and when a paragraph or sentence contains several indefinite pronouns, it sounds downright silly after the third or fourth repetition. Why do we do this? We are trying to tell the truth using a language that was designed to reinforce the lie, and it‘s going to take more than patching up with this linguistic band-aid. Although up to the very recent past, I have capitulated to this politically correct invasion upon my prose, from now on, starting May the twenty-third, two thousand thirteen, I will just say “she” or “her.” Let male writers say “he” or “his” and be done with it. Our writing will flow oh so much smoother.

Now some folks will have a problem with this. I propose that said folks take the same energy they would use to browbeat me and use it to create a gender neutral indefinite pronoun. Why not? What constitutes a word anyway? Words aren‘t words by divine right. They aren‘t passed down from the gods. How did the words “laser” and “internet” work their way into the English lexicon? Is a word anything more than a string of phonemes that a significant number of people has decided to use to symbolize some concept, thing or action? If so, what constitutes a “significant number?” Or is there an esoteric council that must canonize said string of phonemes? If so, how do we bring this matter to their attention in a way they cannot ignore?

An I the only writer who is tired of say “he or she?” Are there other writers who would be willing to help create and use a gender neutral indefinite pronoun?

On the Wings of a Wild God   Leave a comment

Copyright 1999

The religious people put a saddle on God.
Bit, bridle, reins and spurs
Kicked His sides
To shuttle to and fro
Along the track of human certitude.
He roared
And stamped a quake into the Earth.
Many people died.
Thy said, “As a horse, you’re a failure.
Perhaps you don’t exist.

The religious people urge me to get on the track
Lest I fall prey to dangerous freedoms.
Slipping off the narrow spine
Of their decrepit horse,
I grasp for the reins.
I yearn for a rule.
I’ve committed a great sin.
What can I buy?
I hurry to scurry
But I do not find Him.

Until I am still,
With nothing that I can do
And not a fig leaf to my name.
Only a core of hot anger
And cold knowledge—
Pain clouds raining in between
He, untamed and unfettered,
Touches me.
He goes where religions illicit morality cannot.
I mount up on His wings.
In the wind
His free mane whips away my tears
One by one.

Posted May 19, 2013 by rhondadenisejohnson in Poetry

Tagged with , , ,

The Listening Heart   1 comment

I watch the people talking and am somewhat repulsed, yet drawn to this almost forgotten experience. I’d like to join them, but they do not know my language. Probably they think I’m pretty stuck up. Some may even have tried to talk to me while my back was turned. I don’t even know.
I turn to watch the traffic. The cars whiz by silently. A bus swings around a distant corner, inching its way to our stop. I strain to see the route number above the windshield but the glass is so scratched up and cloudy that I can not tell what number bus it is. I let the others get on first and then I ask the driver, hoping that his lips will be easy to read. I watch the white incisors press against a full and luscious lower lip. Then both lips move forward and back to form what looks like forty-something. What the something is, I can not tell. It’s like playing Wheel of Fortune. I buy a vowel and hope it is the right one.
“I can’t hear you.” I say.
He holds up his fingers–forty-six. I climb aboard. As the bus pulls away strangers start to talk and laugh. The woman beside me responds to something she has caught in the air. Her lips move and there is laughter on every face. The driver, a well set man of chocolate hue and southern eyes, trades lip motions with the man sitting by the front door. All heads turn to the back of the bus. Someone has said something back there. I look to see but there is nothing to see. I try to look intelligent, sentient. I try not to slip into a dream world but there is nothing here to hold my attention and my mind must focus on something. I decide to focus on something real rather than a dream. I think of Barbara, one of my few deaf friends. Like me, she was deafened after many years of hearing. With horror we have watched the furious sign language of those born deaf. Do that again. Wait a minute. Are you signifying on me?
“Let’s go to the play.” I say.
“No” she says. “I’m tired of smiling when I don’t know what I’m smiling about, just because everyone else is smiling.”
“So what do you want to do?” I ask, tired of her always being tired but trying to understand. I know sometimes it feels like I am in a play and everyone else has read the script except me. And I get tired too, but I can’t deal with it by hibernating. I can’t let it deaden my personality or fill me with despair. Everything in me longs to reach out to other people and share what God has given me. My tears flow into His bottomless hands that never overflow. I’ve taken up the heavy cross of living that weighs on me daily and I put myself right in the middle of life because I could not know the joy if I avoided the pain.
So I am here in the middle of all this secret laughter. The bus turns onto the freeway as I study the faces around me. Across the aisle sits a man who must surely be the most gorgeous guy God’s got. And so tall. To get from his feet to his head I have to make a decision–AT&T or Sprint? He sees me looking and smiles. I smile. His lips move. I could watch those lips forever, don’t care what he is saying. But his eyes tell me he is waiting for a response. I pull out a piece of paper and give it to him.
“I am deaf’ I say. “Please write down what you are saying.”
“You’re very pretty” he writes. “Are you going to work?”
“No, I’m going to school. I go to Cal State University.”
“Really? What are you studying?”
“I am working on my English masters.”
The bus stops and three women come aboard. They pass between us, interrupting the flow of our conversation. I am annoyed. They have not stopped talking for a second. How, I wonder, do people find so much to talk about without having to stop and think? As if it were all prerecorded before birth. From their faces I see that two of them seem to be browbeating the third one who is sucking her teeth and biting her lip at the same time. It’s a silent movie without subtitles. The emotions I see are so pure without language. But it’s another world. I only feel the frustration of not being a part of it. Maybe I’m reacting to nothing a kaleidoscope of unreality. I turn my head to change the view and see the guy, but I feel the atmosphere in his mind change as he looks at the three women. I see his eyes reacting to their lips. Consternation and astonishment knit his brows. I read his face like a slow, eloquent lip. But I cannot respond to the realities that are changing him. I’d know what to do in this situation–I’d know what to say if I knew what the situation was. I look at him. Would he tell me? I want to ask but my mouth will not open. He looks at me. He looks right through me. He knows I do not know and seems pleased. He smiles and pats me on the cheek. Then he writes
“Goodbye. This is my stop” and gets off the bus. With him goes my ability to scream, but not my will.
Got to find some reality somewhere somehow. Got to find some kind of reality. I take my EBENCE magazine from my bag. I’ve read almost all of it except the music section. I usually skip that part but today I need some reality. These pictures on the page with their written words are more real to me than the ghost that just got off the bus or the chatter boxes who turned him into a cheek patting wraith. A full page has been blessed with the image of Luther Vandross. I read the accompanying article, trying to capture his sound from this description of it. I reach back in my memory for a masculine voice that fits his majestic face. I find Sam Cooke. Yes, Luther sends me. Jerry Butler. Understand the man is mellow as a cello. Larry Graham. One in a million chance that the voices I remember belong to the man that I see. There is also an article about sisterhood. Reach out to the sisterhood it says. It is vital, dynamic. No woman should isolate herself from it. I look at the three women–the sisters. They are still talking. They must be using Duracell batteries. Let me experience sisterhood with you, I want to say. Would they slow down their furious chatter? Would they put their words on paper or learn to sign and share their souls with me? Or would they say “Girl, I don’t have time.” I look at them. I want to hate them for what they can do, but I can not. They are the ones I have loved and identified with in a book. Sister Hurston, Sister Angelou, Sister Morrison, Sister Naylor, Sister McMillan taught me to laugh with them. Yell at them. Slap high five over something we knew was true. Say Yeah Girl, I know what you mean. Or Girl you’re crazy. Don’t do that. I look at them. It’s all very well to find reality in a picture in a magazine. But ain’t nothing like the real thing. Now is the test. There must be something that I can do to reach them. Many people hear without listening. It must be conversely possible to listen without hearing. What do the ears have to do with listening anyway? Listening is done with the heart and the mind. I will listen to my sisters–listen to their faces. I will listen at the windows of their souls.
The bus comes to an unscheduled stop by the side of the freeway. The driver stands to face us and his lips move. He takes some orange triangles from a box under his seat and goes outside. With no wind coming through the window the heat of fifty living bodies in close quarters suddenly asserts itself. I look at the faces around me. These are the expressions of sardines in a pressure cooker: annoyed, flustered, phobic, got to use it.
The two talking sisters are too caught up in the general annoyance to continue jumping on the third one and she has withdrawn to a place where one must write poetry or go insane. I am listening as her eyes reach to some distant pain outside the bus, beyond the heat. No freeway can take me to that place. I must listen but now my courage is wavering. She has not looked at me and I do not know her. I want to know her. I want to know and feel this sister of mine. Courage? Presumption? Can I do and say the perfectly right thing to make it all better? Kiss it and make it better? Presumption? Presumptuous courage. Courageous presumption. Dumb to sit here hemming and hawing like Hamlet when to be is the only answer because I am. But “I am” is no good without “I do.”
I reach out and touch her. Courage or no courage I touch her.
“Smile.” I say. I listen to her startled uncertainty. “Are you okay?” I ask.
She smiles weakly. Her lips move to say “Yeah, I’m fine.” And heads back to that distant place. Should I let her go? Doesn’t she have a right to go? Maybe she will find healing there. Maybe I can’t help her anyway. Maybe.. .too many maybe’s. Love is a verb. Maybe is an anti-verb.
“I just noticed you seem like something is bothering you.” This time the motion of her lips don’t translate into anything I can understand. I take out a sheet of paper. My portable telecommunications modem. “I am deaf. Please write what you are saying.” My eyes are listening. They do not blink. She writes carefully, talking to the paper which does not threaten to dismiss her pain with comforting words. I am not there, but I’m listening. I read what she has written. Now I know I was presumptuous. I have no cure all answers. My silent, paper heart says nothing.
We are torn away from this silent touch by the noisy practical business of moving to the new bus that has just pulled up. I listen. Does she feel–relief? Or like someone dragging her fingers at last on the lip of a deep hole only to be flushed back down by an avalanche of pitiless necessities. I am listening, but life is loud. Too loud to hear a woman on a table, a mother on the phone, a baby not ready to be born.
I get on the other bus. Wind blows through the window but I have no answers. She gives me another sheet of paper. It says “Thanks for listening.”
Think of that. She didn’t want an answer. She wanted a listening heart. Fifty living bodies just want a listening heart The wind blows. I do not blink.

Fran Lewis ~ The Crossroads of Time   Leave a comment

As two women meet at the Crossroads of Time one will have to decide the fate of both. Just what happens when Ayodele and Chloe finally meet? What happens to Chloe? What will change more than just her life but that of others? Read The Crossroads of Time and find out what happens when life brings you opportunities, choices need to be made and nothing can stop you if you turn the key in the right direction. A must read.
Fran Lewis: reviewer

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